National Data | Even U.S. STEM Graduates Unemployed—Why Does Romney Want To Import More?

The college bubble must really be bursting: recently, the fashionable leftist Daily Beast webzine ran a story on The 13 Most Useless Majors, From Philosophy to Journalism.  Unemployment rates for these recent graduates (ages 22 to 26) ranged from 13.9% (architecture) to 7.7% (journalism, oddly. Philosophy grads came in at 10.8% unemployed).

The Daily Beast asks: Are Liberal Arts Majors Useless? But that’s not really the problem, as anyone can see from the merest glance at the recent Georgetown University study Hard Times, College Majors, Unemployment and Earnings: Not All College Degrees Are Created Equal, January 4, 2012 PDF on which the Beast article was based. Unemployment rates are high for recent college graduates in even the most demanding majors, including STEM degrees (science, technology, engineering, mathematics):

  • Information systems 11.7%
  • Mechanical engineering 8.6%
  • General science 8.2%
  • Biology 7.7%
  • Computer science 7.4%
  • Business 7.4%
  • Chemistry 6.6%
  • Healthcare 5.4%
  • Education 5.4%

Indeed, an Associated Press analysis of data from 2011 found 53.6% of college graduates under the age of 25 were unemployed—or, if they were lucky enough, under-employed, meaning they were working in fields were their degree was irrelevant.

Think a physics major working at Starbucks, or a molecular biologist driving a van for a car dealership.

Indeed, recent Mechanical Engineering grads (8.6% unemployed) are actually more likely to be unemployed than recent Drama and Theater Arts grads—whose 7.8% unemployment is bad enough for second place in the Daily Beast's list of the “most useless” college majors (which includes factors like potential income and job growth).

The average unemployment rate for recent bachelor's-degree recipients in 2009 and 2010 was 8.9%, according to the Georgetown study.

Of course, that looks goods relative to the appalling 22.9% unemployment rate for recent high-school graduates. But American college grads have to endure four years of foregone income and heavy indebtedness. Student loan debt reportedly exceeded credit card debt for the first time last year. It is expected to top a trillion dollars this year.  [Burden of College Loans on Graduates Grows, By Tamar Lewin, NYT, April 11, 2011

As usual, there is an unmentioned immigration dimension to this problem. The current immigration inflow is notoriously disproportionately unskilled. But there were about 8 million legal immigrants with BAs or higher in the U.S. 2010—and even an estimated 1.2 million illegals with BAs or higher. These are my own calculations based on data from Census Bureau (foreign born college graduates) and Pew Hispanic Center (% of legal and illegal immigrants with college degrees).

Immigration policy also exacerbates both ends of the college squeeze:

  • Financial aid is siphoned from native-born American students via state-level DREAM Act-type legislation, which mandates in states charge in state tuition for children of illegal aliens.

It is conservatively estimated  that:

a. about 1 million illegal immigrants would eventually qualify for the proposed federal DREAM benefit and,

b. each will receive a tuition subsidy averaging $6,000 per year. Taxpayers will thus cough up an added $6 billion per year for the tuition subsidy—six billion that could have helped defray college costs for American students.

And, of course,

  • another million new graduates will eventually be able to compete with American recent graduates for jobs.

We already know that the ongoing inflow of foreign-born workers reduces salaries of newly minted BAs. George Borjas quantifies this impact in a seminal paper The Labor Demand Curve Is Downward Sloping: Reexamining The Impact Of Immigration On The Labor Market, concluding that immigration over the 1980-2000 period reduced wages of the average U.S.-born worker by 3.2 percent. The depression varied dramatically among education levels. Native high-school dropouts suffered an 8.9 percent wage reduction. But even college-educated natives suffered an above-average reduction of 4.9 percent.

This is the environment in which GOP Presidential nominee-presumptive Mitt Romney proposes to “staple a green card” to the diplomas of all foreign-born STEM graduates from American colleges.

Go figure.

Edwin S. Rubenstein (email him) is President of ESR Research Economic Consultants in Indianapolis